Consent. Allow yourself.
By Sara Willner
I look at the generation below me (I'm 35) and if popular culture is anything to go by, and it is, this topic is well and truly on the table. It makes me excited for them; growing up watching shows like Big Mouth and Sex Education. Sex positive, body positive, open, loud and unapologetic about the very topics we whispered about in private study.
We used to listen to the guys talk endlessly about masturbation, answering our millions of questions. But we never ever turned it around, never asked ourselves, each other, about masturbation or spoke of periods and discharge and sex. Pushed up against the water jet in my aunties spa, those were some of things I knew existed. But what about those that I didn't?
I knew about ‘yes’ and ‘no’. If you said ‘no’, and they did it anyway, well, that was rape. But what about the grey area in between your desires and your comfort zone, in between pushing your boundaries and making them?
This article on consent is not about peer pressure, it's not about someone pushing your ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ or just pushing full stop. This article is about you and consent. Its about consenting to yourself. To consent, to allow- to allow yourself.
Consent demands an understanding of boundaries, and when I was younger, the boundaries I was taught were authoritative ones. Who to respect, who to obey, how to act appropriately in specific situations. It was made very clear when I had crossed the line (very often), but what wasn't discussed was my personal boundaries. I'm not sure if I was ever asked if I was comfortable to do x or y or z. I might very well have refused, (I did anyways), but no such conversation ever occurred.
As a consequence, when I grew up, personal boundaries weren't part of my lexicon- they weren't a frame for interactions in my life. This became problematic when I began to branch out sexually. Suddenly every interaction, while exciting and interesting also had the possibility of leaving me distressed. And yes, I made certain choices and took certain risks, I was most definitely testing limitis. What I didn't know is that opting out in the middle of a test was an option. And even if I had, I wouldn't have felt comfortable doing so. How do you say stop when you're already having sex?
With time I learnt that it's actually very easy, but you need to be comfortable with yourself. You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. You need to be comfortable with the possible discomfort of others. You need to be comfortable 'disappointing' others (not that anyone should be disappointed if you stop doing something your not comfortable with, not if they care about you to any extent). You need to be comfortable with your boundaries and needs and emotions. You need to be comfortable vocalising. You need to be comfortable asking. You need be comfortable putting your comfort first. You need to be comfortable saying fuck you to the patriarchy, to the idea that women are here to please and be nice and polite and acquiesce and make everything ok again.
In most areas of my life, I seemed to do this just fine, but my sexual life appeared to be some form of blind spot where I absorbed every stereotype and repressive mechanism that society cares to throw at us. Like I owed someone sex because they had gone to the effort of meeting me. Psychologically speaking it wasn't that simple, I had met them looking for sex too. What I didn't realise is that I could change my mind. It's a legitimate thing to do, changing your mind. I just couldn't quite see how it was possible in that context. And that's what I mean by consenting to yourself, allowing yourself to change your mind.
I'm going to spell it out- because that's how consent works. We spell it out so that we can be sure that everyone is happily on board. I want to legitimise myself, I want to give that twinge of doubt, that thought in the back of my mind, legitimacy. I want to legitimise stopping or slowing down. Legitimise asking to stop, changing my mind. Because every time I do that I am working against the image, which is burnt into my whole being, that those aren't legitimate requests for a woman to make.
So I practice, I practice noticing my emotions, understanding that I feel uncomfortable or angry, I practice respecting myself, I practice acting on those emotions and I practice speaking up. I practice asking for consent and I practice demanding that others ask it of me. I practice removing myself from situations in which it is not. I practice all parts of a consent based mindset- a viewpoint which places respect for the autonomous being before you and in you at the forefront.
Now I want to clarify that I am not suggesting that one can't test boundaries safely, we most definitely can with a good understanding of consent and our ability to give, refuse and request it. I also don't mean to suggest that consent is only relevant in sexual situations- that was my personal weak spot. On the contrary, consent applies to every aspect of our lives and by grounding ourselves in consent we form a strong base for our interactions with ourselves and those around us.
So yes, let's teach kids about consent (no, you don't have to hug anyone you don't want to). Let's give them the message that their bodies are their own, let's teach them body autonomy. Let's teach them emotional legitimacy (yes its ok to be angry or sad or both or neither), you can allow yourself these emotions.
But more importantly, lets teach ourselves about consent. In a world which does not view the consent of women as a necessity, lets practice making it our personal priority. Allow yourself.
About the author:
Sara Willner is a boheme, with a background in sociology, anthropology and mechanics. She currently practices as a model and muse and is pursuing further academic research. You can find her on facebook @sarainthatnude and instagram @princessofhan, @misswhizz and @cupoblood
the sex ed you wish you had